Raymond Teruya Sr. had the widest smile Wednesday as he returned to his family’s Diamond Head home after police pulled down most of the crime scene tape that has surrounded Hibiscus Drive since Sunday.
That was when a landlord- tenant dispute left four dead, including two police officers, and ended with a fire that destroyed seven homes.
“Oh it felt real good, real good,” Teruya said, but his smile dimmed as he reflected on the fact that some of his neighbors in the tight-knit enclave by Kapiolani Park will experience a dramatically different homecoming. While the home owned by Teruya’s sister Sherri Teruya only sustained smoke damage, Teruya said some of the surrounding neighbors lost everything.
“If you have a house, yeah it’s very, very good. If you don’t, I feel very sorry for that,” Teruya said.
>> Photo Gallery: Residents return to gutted Diamond Head neighborhood
Either way, coming home certainly will be a milestone for those who live near 3015 Hibiscus Drive, the Diamond Head residence where Jerry “Jarda” Hanel, 69, is alleged to have fatally shot two police officers, killed his landlady Lois Cain, and attacked another woman. Shortly after, a major fire broke out and spread throughout the neighborhood, which still looks and smells like a war zone.
No one knows what prompted Sunday’s mayhem, but Cain had filed papers against Hanel on Thursday seeking to evict him from the basement apartment that neighbors said he’d occupied for 15 years or more. While Hanel’s relationship with some neighbors had been difficult, Cain had supported him until recently. Some have surmised that the recent death of his dog was a turning point, and that his relationship with Cain had soured after she refused to give him $50,000 to clone his dead dog or allow him to get another one.
The chaos of the crime scene and fire displaced the community on Hibiscus Drive and left some neighbors on up to four other streets in the dark. A crew of about 20 Hawaiian Electric workers was finally allowed to enter the area late Wednesday afternoon to begin restoring power to some 40 customers, who have been without it since early Sunday when the Honolulu Police Department instructed Hawaiian Electric to cut the power to help prevent the fire from spreading further.
On Wednesday, police said residents whose houses were habitable also could return home. As dusk descended, neighbors began to venture back. Some merely surveyed the damage and got updates from Hawaiian Electric and police. But others began to roll up their sleeves and comb through the rubble, which at some burned-out properties was piled more than 5 feet high.
Teruya, who was out lending equipment to a family of seven who lost their house while they were at church Sunday, said he has witnessed their heartbreak, but he’s grateful that none of them got hurt.
“You can always rebuild one house, but once you lose a life that’s it, eh … you can replace money and all that, but life you cannot bring it back,” he said.
The reopening of the community followed an announcement earlier in the day that the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office had ruled the deaths of Honolulu police officers Tiffany Enriquez, 38, and Kaulike Kalama, 34, as homicides and said both victims had died from gunshot wounds.
Two sets of remains found Tuesday at 3015 Hibiscus Drive have yet to be identified. But they are expected to be those of Cain, the 77-year-old homeowner, and her tenant Hanel, the suspected gunman.
On Wednesday, the Medical Examiner’s Office said, “Due to the circumstances, positive identification may take several weeks.”
Stuart Coleman, who lives five houses away from 3015 Hibiscus Drive, said he has had difficulty sleeping since Sunday. The deadly shootings and fire have brought anxiety that has constantly replayed in his mind.
“It’s just one of the most traumatic things I ever lived through,” said Coleman, who along with his wife has been staying at a nearby friend’s home during the time that police closed the street.
Though the house that they have rented for five years was unscathed in the massive fire, Coleman said he empathizes with his neighbors who lost their homes. “That’s been the hard part,” he said.
What’s even more heart- wrenching is the shooting deaths of Enriquez and Kalama, who “seemed like two stellar people,” he said.
Coleman recounted how he and his wife were getting ready to go to church when they heard gunshots. “It definitely was alarming,” he said.
Then he received a text from a friend that police cars were swarming the neighborhood and that an officer was fatally shot.
Police told the Colemans to stay indoors. Soon after, they smelled smoke and saw Cain’s house in flames and the fire spread from one house to another.
The Honolulu Fire Department hasn’t released an official count of the fire’s monetary toll. However, according to property records, the seven homes that were destroyed have values in excess of $13.2 million.
Maria Lutz, regional disaster officer for the American Red Cross Pacific Islands Region, said Red Cross caseworkers assisted seven families whose homes were damaged by fire. Lutz said Red Cross temporary shelters only housed one overnight guest on Sunday and one on Monday, but more than 15 people registered to use them, mostly as a meeting place.
Lutz said while the neighborhood was closed, the Red Cross positioned its emergency response vehicle near the police checkpoint so that they could assist residents and other community members.
Ultimately, the nonprofit’s crisis counselors assisted 30 people, she said.
Michael Wurtz, Oahu’s district mental health coordinator for the Red Cross, said, “This operation is generally around mental health — it’s a traumatic loss. The whole neighborhood has been upended, homes destroyed neighbors affected. Everyone’s worried about everyone.”
Dealing with the return to the neighborhood and the memory of the event will be different for everyone, Wurtz said.
“For some people this might be the biggest event of their lives, other people may be able to brush it off,” he said.
Wurtz said how people cope depends a lot on their proximity to the event and how they received the information. People who were there to see, smell and hear an event tend to feel it worst, he said.
“We used to always say, ‘You are going to get over it.’ They don’t teach that anymore because we know that you don’t get over it, you learn to live with it,” Wurtz said.